‘Raghead’ Slur in Snowden Leak Prompts White House Call for Discrimination Review

The use of such inflammatory language is “unacceptable and inconsistent with NSA policy and core values,” an agency spokeswoman said.

US President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 24, 2013. The President renewed his call for Congress to pass sweeping immigration reform.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 9, 2014, 8:52 a.m.

On the heels of an ex­plos­ive leak from Ed­ward Snowden, the White House is push­ing its in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to re­view their in­tern­al policies and stand­ards to en­sure “di­versity and tol­er­ance” in its op­er­a­tions.

An art­icle pub­lished Wed­nes­day by The In­ter­cept re­vealed that the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and the FBI spied on the emails of five high-pro­file Muslim-Amer­ic­ans who were ap­par­ently guilty of no wrong­do­ing. One dis­closed file from 2005 shows a tar­get’s un­known name be­ing re­placed with a place­hold­er of “Mo­hammed Ra­g­head.”

Without con­firm­ing or deny­ing oth­er de­tails of the re­port, the White House said it has asked for an as­sess­ment of wheth­er spy agen­cies are vig­or­ous enough in their poli­cing of po­ten­tial ra­cial or re­li­gious bi­as.

“As the NSA has said, the use of ra­cial or eth­nic ste­reo­types, slurs, or oth­er sim­il­ar lan­guage by em­ploy­ees is both un­ac­cept­able and in­con­sist­ent with the coun­try’s core val­ues,” White House spokes­wo­man Caitlin Hay­den said in a state­ment. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion takes all such al­leg­a­tions ex­tremely ser­i­ously, and upon learn­ing of this mat­ter, the White House im­me­di­ately re­ques­ted that the dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence un­der­take an as­sess­ment of In­tel­li­gence Com­munity policies, train­ing stand­ards or dir­ect­ives that pro­mote di­versity and tol­er­ance, and as ne­ces­sary, make any re­com­mend­a­tions changes or ad­di­tion­al re­forms.”

Hay­den did not of­fer fur­ther de­tails about the scope or dur­a­tion of the in­vest­ig­a­tion, but did say that it had been ini­ti­ated in dir­ect re­sponse to The In­ter­cept story.

The new leak has already promp­ted a swift back­lash from a wide net of civil-rights groups led by the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, which are seek­ing “a full pub­lic ac­count­ing of these prac­tices.”

The co­ali­tion of 44 or­gan­iz­a­tions sent a let­ter to Pres­id­ent Obama on Wed­nes­day ask­ing the Justice De­part­ment to re­vis­it and strengthen policies dis­cuss­ing the prop­er use of race by law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

“While we do not know all of the facts of the in­di­vidu­al re­por­ted cases, we be­lieve the gov­ern­ment has an ob­lig­a­tion to ex­plain the basis for its ac­tions,” said the let­ter, whose sig­nat­or­ies in­cluded Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al, Free Press, and the Hu­man Rights Watch. “Moreover, we can­not pre­sume that the gov­ern­ment ac­ted without pre­ju­dice or bi­as. Too of­ten, both in the past and in the present, we have ob­served the gov­ern­ment en­ga­ging in pat­terns of dis­crim­in­at­ory and ab­us­ive sur­veil­lance.”

A spokes­wo­man for the NSA said the agency “has not, and would not, ap­prove of­fi­cial train­ing doc­u­ments that in­clude in­sult­ing or in­flam­mat­ory lan­guage.”

But state­ments from the NSA re­gard­ing its sur­veil­lance prac­tices con­tin­ue to prove un­per­suas­ive to the agency’s crit­ics. The Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights likened the spy­ing on Muslim-Amer­ic­ans emails to the FBI’s sur­veil­lance of Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. and oth­er civil-rights act­iv­ists in the 1960s, who were viewed as rad­ic­als by the gov­ern­ment.

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